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Sunday, 23 November 2014

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Stobart Group's Carlisle Airport plans set to be given go-ahead again

Stobart Group is poised to again get the go-ahead for its £20m Carlisle Airport overhaul – without the pressure of proving it can make commercial flights a success.

Carlisle Airport photo
Carlisle Airport

Councillors are being recommended to approve the transport giant’s proposals for a massive freight distribution centre and a revamped runway at the airfield at a special meeting on Monday.

They are also being advised that a legal agreement obliging Stobart to keep the airport open is not necessary.

That advice comes on the back of new case law, which has emerged since a High Court judge quashed a previous planning permission decision, which means the need to take into account the viability of the airport when considering the distribution centre is no longer relevant.

Stobart Group chief executive Andrew Tinkler, however, insists the firm remains committed keeping the airport open, running passenger flights in tandem with its other operations and that its plans are based on a robust business case to make the airfield a success.

He said: “Nothing has changed for us.”

Mr Justice Collins stopped the development in March after Gordon Brown, a farmer who lives opposite the airfield, sought a judicial review. He found a defect in viability forecasts.

When it tabled information for the revived application, Stobart offered a £250,000 subsidy for scheduled flights to London Southend and Dublin through Aer Arran – now Stobart Air, the airline in which Stobart Group has a 45 per cent stake.

But, in a new twist to the long-running saga, success for the scheme may no longer be dependent on whether the Carlisle-founded company can prove the flights will be profitable and keep the airport open.

And a new set of independent consultants commissioned by Carlisle City Council to look at the case afresh believe Stobart’s plans for passenger flights could secure the airport’s future in the short to medium term.

Opposition, however, remains and viability of these operations is heavily disputed by experts employed by Mr Brown, who has described the weight of evidence for refusing the application as “overwhelming”.

A report to councillors states: “Based on the likely estimate of passengers, the council’s aviation consultant considers that there is a realistic prospect of developing a public transport/commercial route, with particular regard to Dublin, for both the operators of the airline and the airport in the short-medium term.”

On the issue of whether legal conditions should be attached to the future of the airport, if the distribution centre is given the go-ahead, the report adds: “In these circumstances it is not considered reasonable for the council to require the applicant to enter an agreement obliging them to keep the airport open.”

Airport Planning and Development, the consultants employed by the council, described projected passenger demand for flights from Carlisle as “realistic”

York Aviation, acting for Mr Brown, however, says Stobart’s projections for passenger numbers are out of date and that any subsidy would have to be greater than the 250,000 promised by the firm.

The consultant concluded: “I remain of the view that air services are unlikely to be operated or, if operated at all, not sustained for more than a year or so.”

Stobart’s first airport scheme was passed by the council in 2008 and the third planning application was approved in February last year.

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